The 12 best first-ever college football matchups in 2018

By Amy Daughters -

Even though nearly 150 years have passed since Rutgers beat Princeton in the first-ever college football game, there remains a long list of FBS programs who have never met on the gridiron.

In 2018, there are roughly 50 games slated that feature first-ever matchups. Of these, five include two Power 5 members squaring off for the first time in history.

It’s exciting stuff, an opportunity to watch something that’s never, ever been seen before.

12. Ball State at Notre Dame (Saturday, Sept. 8)

Ball State and Notre Dame are located a mere 145 miles apart in Indiana. Despite 224-years of combined football history and shared statehood, they’ve never met. Once played, each of the four FBS teams from Indiana will all have faced each other at least once.

Ball State is 3-12 all-time vs. in-state FBS opponents; 3-5 vs. Indiana and 0-8 vs. Purdue. Notre Dame is 56-31-3 in Hoosier State action and 6-0 all-time vs. the current membership of the MAC.

11. Tulane at Ohio State (Saturday, Sept. 22)

More than just a clash between the American Athletic and Big Ten, Tulane (1893) and Ohio State (1890) are old-guard football teams with tons of history. The Green Wave were card-carrying members of the SEC from 1933-65, winning conference titles in 1934 and 1939. The ’39 squad went 8-0-1 in the regular season and finished No. 5 in the final AP after losing by one-point to (1) Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl.

The Buckeyes are 29-3-1 vs. the current AAC, the bulk coming via a 14-2 mark against Cincinnati. The only other AAC team they’ve ever lost to is SMU, falling 32-27 in 1950. Tulane is 8-15 vs. the current Big Ten, last playing Rutgers in 2014.

10. Tulsa at Texas (Saturday, Sept. 8)

The Tulsa-Texas matchup seals the two programs’ relationship with the opposing state. For Texas, it means it will have played all three of the FBS programs from Oklahoma. Even more impressively, for Tulsa it means it will have played all 12 of the FBS schools from Texas.

The Golden Hurricane are 94-98-1 all-time vs. the Lone Star State while the Longhorns are 85-54-5 against the Sooner State.

9. Georgia Tech at USF (Saturday, Sept. 8)

The next three matchups all pit Power 5 members vs. a Group of Five school that could play in a Power league. What’s also fun about Georgia Tech-USF is the potential matchup between the Yellow Jacket’s option attack (ranked No. 5 in the nation in rushing yards per game last season) and a Bulls’ defense that was No. 21 vs. the run (nationally) in 2017.

Georgia Tech is 71-26-1 against the current membership of the AAC. USF is a respectable 22-25 vs. the ACC.

8. UCF at North Carolina (Saturday, Sept. 15)

Though this game won’t count as a Power opponent for North Carolina, it will provide a serious test for the Tar Heels who also have a road trip to Cal in non-ACC play this season. UCF brings back quarterback McKenzie Milton and four of his six top receiving targets to a passing attack that finished 2017 ranked No. 10 in the FBS. North Carolina was No. 88 in the FBS and No. 13 in the ACC in scoring defense last season, setting up a potential mismatch.

UCF is 3-18 vs. the ACC, the only wins coming vs. Louisville (2013), Boston College (2011) and NC State (2007). North Carolina is 31-21-3 vs. the current AAC.

7. Cincinnati at UCLA (Saturday, Sept. 1)

Cincinnati first fielded a football team in 1885, tying it with Michigan State as the tenth-oldest program in the FBS. In that 133 years, the Bearcats have only played two FBS programs from the state of California: Fresno State (2009-10) and San Diego State (2007 and the 2015 Hawaii Bowl). UCLA’s only action vs. the eight FBS members hailing from Ohio is a 4-4-1 record vs. Ohio State.

Cincinnati is 4-2 vs. the Pac-12, most recently winning both games in a home-and-home series with Oregon State in 2007 and 2009. The Bruins are 7-8 all-time vs. the current AAC, losing at Memphis last season 48-45.

6. Pitt at Wake Forest (Saturday, Nov. 17)

The first of the five Power vs. Power first-ever meetings in 2018, Pitt-Wake Forest is also one of only two conference games on our list. The Panthers left the Big East for the ACC in 2013 and the Demon Deacons are the only member of the conference they’ve yet to play. For Wake Forest, this is only the second time in history it’s played an FBS opponent from the state of Pennsylvania and the first time it’s hosted one in Winston-Salem. It traveled to Penn State in 1974 and got blanked 55-0 which also means it’s never, ever scored a point against a team from the Keystone State.

5. Boston College at Purdue (Saturday, Sept. 22)

Purdue is the only FBS program from the state of Indiana that Boston College has never played. The Eagles are 9-15 vs. Notre Dame, 1-0 vs. Indiana, and 3-0 vs. Ball State. As for the Boilermakers, this is their first-ever game against an FBS team from Massachusetts even though they are 1-0 vs. both Harvard and Boston University of the FCS.

Purdue is 14-15-2 vs. the current ACC. Boston College is 38-42-2 vs. the Big Ten.

4. Boise State at Oklahoma State (Saturday, Sept. 15)

Though not a Power vs. Power matchup, Boise State-Oklahoma State ought to be one of the best non- conference games of the year. Though the Cowboys are known for their potent passing attack (No. 1 in the FBS in 2017), they are retooling after losing their starting quarterback and top two receivers. That’s not the case for Boise State, who brings back quarterback Brett Rypien and two of his top four targets. It’s a potential mismatch vs. an Oklahoma State secondary that finished last season ranked No. 117 in the FBS in passing defense.

Oklahoma State is 13-5-1 vs. the current Mountain West, most recently hosting Wyoming in 2003. Boise State is 4-3 vs. the Big 12, last falling to Baylor in the 2016 Cactus Bowl.

3. Georgia Tech at Louisville (Friday, Oct. 5)

The second of the two conference games on our list, Louisville joined the ACC in 2014. The game vs. Georgia Tech will mean it’s finally played every member of their new conference. It’s also the Cardinals’ first-ever regular-season game against an FBS team from Georgia, losing to the Bulldogs in the 2014 Belk Bowl. The Yellow Jackets haven’t visited the state of Kentucky since 1959 when – as members of the SEC – they rolled into Lexington and beat the Wildcats 14-12.

2. Tennessee vs. West Virginia (Saturday, Sept. 1, in Charlotte, NC)

Given that both schools are located in the Appalachia region and are relatively close geographically (420 miles apart), it’s shocking that the Tennessee and West Virginia have never met on the gridiron. In fact, the Mountaineers are the only Big 12 team the Vols have never played. For WVU, after playing Tennessee, Arkansas will be the only SEC program it’s never met.

Tennessee is 9-8 vs. the current Big 12, last falling to (19) Oklahoma early in the 2015 season. West Virginia is 25-25-2 vs. the SEC, most recently beating Missouri to open the 2016 season.

1. Washington vs. Auburn (Saturday, Sept. 1 in Atlanta, Ga.)

To add to the excitement of a powerhouse first-ever meeting, Washington-Auburn ought to also be among the few Top 25 matchups in Week 1. The Huskies have never beaten an FBS team hailing from the state of Alabama, holding a 0-5 record against the Crimson Tide. They’ve also never played UAB, Troy or South Alabama. Auburn, on the other end of the spectrum, has never lost to an FBS team from Washington, owning a 2-0 mark vs. Washington State.

Auburn is 8-3 vs. the current Pac-12, most recently edging Washington State 31-24 to open the 2013 season. Washington is 3-10 vs. the SEC, last falling to (1) Alabama in the 2016 CFP Semifinal/Peach Bowl.

Historical data courtesy of Sports Reference/College Football. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com

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Comments (9)

I’m floored by that, too! I doubt we’ll probably see them meet again for a while unless they meet in a bowl, which is a bit of a shame.

Maybe the top 80. It looks like a game that will be a case of the have nots vs. the has beens playing in front of a half empty stadium and a very modest tv audience with little appeal outside the Big10.

Tennessee vs West Virginia is a match up I would have thought would have happened before. They are not that far away from each other. Thanks for the article.